Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Detroit Trust Co. Building

This bank building opened on Nov. 22, 1915 - but was only a third its current size.

Architect Albert Kahn designed it for the Detroit Trust Co., a three-story, Neoclassical-style design with a steel-frame construction and a facade of limestone on the southwest corner of West Fort and Shelby streets. The cost was estimated at $130,000, and the building permit was issued in January 1915. Ernest Wilby, Kahn's frequent partner in design, was the associate architect.

The bank's "patrons and friends and the public generally are invited to inspect the company's new quarters then and thereafter," the Detroit Free Press wrote Nov. 21, 1915. "All the problems that have arisen during the rapid growth of the Detroit Trust Co. have been provided for."

Kahn and Wilby outfitted the bank with a granite base and buff Bedford limestone exterior. The floor was of marble and the walls of Bitticino marble all the wall to the beamed-and-coffered ceiling. This first form of the building extended just 40 feet along West Fort but 138 feet on Shelby. The general contractor was the Albert A. Albrecht Co. of Detroit, and nearly all of the sub-contractors were also based in the city. The bank moved in just a month shy of its 15th anniversary.

"The most striking feature of the building, aside from its architectural beauty, is perhaps the abundance of light in every room and part of the building," the Detroit Evening Times wrote Nov. 22, 1915, the day of the building's opening. "The Detroit Trust Co. has grown very rapidly, so fast, in fact, as to make the construction of its new building an imperative necessity."

Detroit Trust's rapid growth

Detroit Trust Co. was incorporated in December 1900, with the first meeting of stockholders held Dec. 17. Among the first executive committee members were prominent Detroiters like Henry B. Joy and Theodore D. Buhl. The company opened its offices in January 1901 on the second floor of the Butler Building (old 82-84 Griswold St.), and had expanded to the Butler's ground floor by April 1902. In February 1906, it moved into the ground floor of the first Penobscot Building before moving into the original section of this building in 1915. The bank grew from $1 million in invested capital in 1900 to $8.5 million, and from just four employees on the payroll to 350, by 1927. It was time to expand.

The original building was built to support nine more floors when to allow for expansion - but the bank decided to go vertical instead. In 1926, the bank's 25th anniversary year, Kahn was hired to design an addition that more than tripled its size, to 63,000 square feet. Kahn extended the limestone facade and replicated the 40-foot Corinthian columns across the addition, bringing the total to eight. These columns gave "the atmosphere of sturdiness, and the long horizontal lines of the cornice suggest strength and dignity," the Free Press declared Jan. 23, 1927. The enlarged Detroit Trust was extended to 140 feet along West Fort Street but remained 138 feet along Shelby.

Kahn "wanted the general appearance to suggest protection as the outstanding characteristic of the trust business," the Detroit Free Press wrote in its March 6, 1927, edition. Even after the expansion, the Free Press noted that the work was done "with the idea in mind for future expansion" and "the foundation and steel structural work were designed to support eight stories in all." Unlike the first time Kahn allowed for future expansion, this building was done growing.

"Inside, the addition represents the last word in modern facilities," the Free Press noted. The main banking hall was 140 feet long and 100 feet deep and almost entirely open, and was home to the tellers, as well as administrative heads and various departments. The mezzanine held the library and bond and investment departments. The second floor was where the bank's real estate and loan departments were; the auditors were on floor three.

The bank moved into the expanded building on March 6, 1927. The formal opening to the public was held about two months later, on May 18, 1927.

The building was erected on the site of where Fort Shelby once stood, and palisades from the 18th century fort were dug up during the excavation for the addition. The bank put those palisades on display in the elevator lobby; it is not clear what happened to them in the nearly 100 years since.

The rise and departure of Comerica

In 1956, Detroit Trust merged with the Detroit Savings Bank to form the Detroit Bank & Trust Co.

The building was modernized in 1966, at the same time Detroit Bank & Trust built the 211 W. Fort skyscraper across the street and moved its administrative offices and headquarters to its new tower.

In 1982, Detroit Bank & Trust changed its name to Comerica, and this building on West Fort became known as one of several Comerica buildings in Detroit. It continued to occupy the building for the next 36 years.

Then the building was purchased by Dan Gilbert's Bedrock in November 2017 for a reported $5 million.

“We are looking forward to planning a future for one of Detroit’s architectural gems that will activate the entire building and serve the surrounding financial district by continuing the positive momentum downtown,” Bedrock CEO Jim Ketai said in a statement Feb. 5, 2018, regarding the building.

Comerica moved out of the building on Feb. 9, 2018. It has been marketed, but empty, since.

Comerica abandoned Detroit, where its various incarnations had called home since 1849, for Texas in 2007.

Last updated 17/08/2023